I first started The Companion over twenty-five years ago when I envisioned two groups of people: Earth Mothers and Sky Fathers and a specific conflict between them. It was 1995 and I wrote the first draft of the first chapter, starting the story when the protagonists were Chosen and sent for training. Five years of training, I figured, five books, one for each year of school.
Then J.K.Rowling published Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Different system, different world, same structure. Not wanting to be a copycat even in that, I set it aside, starting the story in different places over the years, unable to find the right hook for the first chapter. I even pitched it to an Avon editor in 2004, who liked the idea (at that time, the school scenes were going to be flashbacks) and who asked for the first three chapters and a synopsis.
Yeah, she didn't buy it and she was right to do so. That opening still wasn't right.
In the meantime, Ellora's Cave found me and I found erotic romance as a genre. I published story after story, as many as six in a year (usually one or two full-length novels, two or three novellas and a Quickie or two). Pushing the envelope was fun and I honed my writing ability with the help of my EC editor while periodically coming back to the story I really wanted to tell: The Companion.
Eureka! Or not...
Somewhere in the late 2000's I found the opening. Even as I wrote it, I could feel inside that, at last, THIS was the way the story should start. Drop the whole school thing and concentrate on the protagonist's work out in the field. Literal fields. As in bringing health (the Earth Mothers) and rain (the Sky Fathers) to the farmers.
But world-building is hard. There are all sorts of items to consider: what kind of money do they have? What does the government look like? Who lives in what part of the land? I had to draw a map and figure distances so I knew how long it took to travel from Point A to Point B - and how those times changed whether on horseback or walking. I had to figure out the rules that governed the world, and how the conflict had interfered with those rules. A thousand little details that often kept me up at night until I'd rise and write them down so I wouldn't forget.
I started a story "bible" in a notebook filled with these details - it's the only thing that's kept me sane throughout twenty-five years of working on this behemoth. Because that's what it became. The deeper I got into the real story, the more I realized this was a Big Book. Think Diana Gabaldon big. Or Brandon Sanderson big. It's complicated, it's (hopefully) compelling, and it takes time to tell right.
I'd gotten to around 147,000 words -- already a large book by industry standards -- and got stuck. Real life kept getting in the way. There were so many details to be kept in my head as I wrote that I needed time to push the real world away so I could live in my fantasy world. Only then could I get momentum. A day here and there just wasn't cutting it.
The story languished, in part because of time, but also because of that darn structure. I'd decided now on a three book structure: Book 1 told one protagonist's point of view, Book 2 told the other protagonist's point of view, and Book 3 would tell the world's point of view.
And then I realized I was really telling the same story three times. I tried dovetailing the two protagonists's stories, telling a few chapters of one and the a few of the other. But my confidence shook like a poplar tree's leaves in a storm. I stopped writing entirely.
Getting the residency there saved my sanity -- and The Companion. I wrote over 47,000 words in my month there and that gave me the momentum I needed. Carrying that seclusion with me when I came home from Alaska wasn't easy, but thank the Good Lord above I have a wonderful husband who understand creative needs. He gave me most of July, staying out of my way as I eased myself back into twenty-first century American life.
August, however, crashed through my momentum, with tasks that pulled me out of my book-world almost every day. I despaired. I was close. SO close to the end I could see it on the horizon. Yet doctor's visits, responsibilities, life in general, all conspired against my writing time and I knew I had to take drastic measures.
On September 4th, I went to the cabin -- with its iffy electricity and uncertain heat. We had a cold spell, but that's what sweatshirts are for. I wrote. The weather warmed up, the electricity remained iffy. I'd write and charge during the day (we have solar panels on our roof), but not use any electricity at night. I saved often and spent too much time alone.
Sidenote: I have discovered that, while I'm still mostly an introvert, I do like having people nearby. Those Storyknife dinners were exactly the right amount of social interaction I needed to keep my sanity, but not intrusive enough to pull me out of my book-world. The cabin is too isolated - with only me to keep myself company.
But, on September 16, 2021, I wrote the last chapter of The Companion. Coming in at 247,000 words, it tells half the story I want to tell. Yes, that means there will be another book. Or two. There are a few side characters standing at the door, knocking and wanting to have their say.
So I say it's done, but that's a relative term to a writer. I have a few beta readers who are going through it, looking at it with fresh eyes and finding some holes here and there. So far, easily fixed, but I need their objective eyes to see what I can't. I'm looking for an agent now (one letter off, more to go on Monday) and expect another read will bring to light more edits. Yes, I'm going traditional publishing with this book. It has maps!
But the draft is done.
And yes, the next book is begun. I have pages of notes detailing what needs to be included, and have so far written 1818 words. Four digits. It's a start. And do I know yet if I've started in the right place?
Nope. Not a clue.
And I have an erotic romance just begging to be finished, and a young-adult historical fiction that wants attention, and....and...and. I just may take the time to finish the one, polish the other, and get those published while finding a home for The Companion. And then I'll carve myself another few weeks and enter the book-world again, telling the stories of the further adventures of a certain set of protagonists.
(remember, you can find me on Facebook as Diana Hunter or as Cindy Duprey)